South Downs Way Day 7 – Lewes to Alfriston

Published 20 May 2010. Last updated 27 February 2020

What a difference a few weeks make. When I did my first steps on the South Downs Way it was a rather cold day in February and I’d gone as far as buying some thermal longjohns to keep me going. The paths were deserted, the B&B’s not always open for business.

Now I was arriving back in Lewes at the end of April with a glorious blue sky on a lovely, warm and sunny day, and I was finally about to finish the whole thing off.

There was another difference for this final leg. This time I wouldn’t be alone.

It was all Catherine’s fault really. She kept saying how she might try and join me for the last day into Eastbourne, so I came up with a plan whereby she’d walk from Seaford to Eastbourne, meeting me around lunch time for a trip to the pub.

But we’d also had a few emails from friends wondering if we were planning on doing any walks. So I thought it would be worth inviting everyone. Then it occurred to me that it might look a bit odd if I invited everyone to just walk on Saturday but not the Friday as well. So I put joining me in the invite as well.

Tal and Jacko on the South Downs Way

And so it came to pass that I was strolling out of Lewes with Tal and Jacko. Jacko – or Mr Steven Jackson Esq to give him his full title – went to the same high school as me oop North, whilst Tal (it’s short for Taliesin since you ask) had gone to the University of Warwick with Jacko. Somehow we’d all ended up living in the SW19 area, although Jacko had since moved off to (amongst other things) grow plants and chickens in the wrong St. Ives (the right one is in Cornwall. Trust me on that.)

Despite Jacko having demolished two Sausage and Egg McMuffins, a pastry and a large coffee, we didn’t get off to a particularly sluggish start. A colleague of Tal’s had suggested we go and visit The Dripping Pan – the sunken football ground of Lewes FC. Dutifully we peered through a hole in the gate and admired the fact that the footballers have to run up on to the pitch rather than down. We might have been better off with the other suggestion of visiting the Harvey’s Brewery, however it wasn’t even 11 and we had many miles to go first.

Ashcombe Windmill near Lewes
Ashcombe Windmill near Lewes

Our first task was to get to the South Downs Way, requiring a few miles walking back along the Jugg’s Road, passing by the still not complete windmill. Our walking through Kingston necessitated much banter thanks to Tal being from Kingston (the one on the Thames though) and the hilarity ensued. Although you might have had to have been there… And known us…

Getting back up to Cold Combes required an insanely steep walk up the chalk hill – it had been a difficult path coming down it last time, however I reassured all that once we were at the top, we’d be on a relatively flat path for quite some time.

Paraglider in the South Downs, with Truleigh Hill in the background
Soaring over the South Downs

And our effort was rewarded of that fantastic view of the Lewes area, and of the sight of a paraglider majestically swooping in the sky ahead of us.

Kingston Hill revealed a cluster of paragliders watching their cohort and jokily proclaiming to us that the bloke we were all watching was “showing off”. He certainly had some skill, staying in the air for as long as we were in sight of him. Once again I had this pang to be up there trying it out for myself, whilst simultaneously having that worry about being so far off the ground!

Shortly after we passed a tractor. For reasons I don’t recall, this got Mr Jackson excited enough to take a photograph of it.

Moving onwards, we spent much of the morning being passed by small groups of school kids going in the opposite direction and carrying laminated maps and sleeping mats, and groups seemed to be passing us for some time. As we sat down for lunch with Southease in the distance, it seemed like a never ending stream of them came cast.

With an ethnic makeup that hinted they might be city kids, their glum looks and complete silence of many of the participants indicating they perhaps weren’t having fun. In each group, one person clung on to their laminated map with a kind of grim determination to just get through this.

Only one batch of kids seemed to be enjoying themselves. Tailing near the end, they were having a bit of a sing whilst crowding around their map every five minutes as if they hadn’t trusted the decision they’d made a few metres before.

Descending down from the ridge we’d been on all morning, we arrived near Southease and spotted the source of teenage walkers – two adults and a school minibus, along with another group ready to set off to wherever they were navigating themselves to.

Church at Southease
Church at Southease

As well as a teenage walkers, Southease also contains a Norman church with a circular tower, as well as something very important on a warm day – a water tap. Despite having just had lunch about half an hour before, we lingered around outside the church, enjoying the peaceful village green before crossing the level crossing at the nearby village and tackling the climb up to Beddingham Hill.

With the fleshpots of Newhaven down below, we’d firmly entered sheep territory and the grassy hills were filled with frolicking lambs. The school kids had been left behind, replaced by a group of well dressed people emanating from a nearby car park.

Cuckmere Haven in the distance
Cuckmere Haven in the distance

As we went on Cuckmere Haven could be seen, looking almost walk-able despite it not being somewhere we’d visit until the next day. Above its flat estuary, the inevitable paragliders swooped and swooned in the late afternoon breeze, looking almost like seagulls from our distance.

The sun was preparing to go in as we slowly descended to the town of Alfriston where we’d be staying the night. Passing several tempting looking pubs, we walked the relatively trivial half mile stretch from the centre to the YHA. Perhaps it was the fourteen previous miles talking, but it felt longer.

YHA Alfriston
The now closed YHA Alfriston

Checking in, I found perhaps the only YHA warden to ever check expiry dates on membership cards (it was still valid if you’re wondering) and we went to our dorm to make beds, shower and collapse for a bit. The same warden went on to unnerve us slightly by proclaiming the hostel was full of rugby players. Unnerved, we sidled upstairs to our dorm in a wing of the house which our warden proclaimed, with a glint in her eye, was “normally the women’s wing”.

Visions of drunkenness and late night singing filled the mind as we headed to the “male wing” where the shower were, only to bump into the rugby team. The torment was revealed. They were all about 12 and 13.

Not having to worry about their drunken antics, we headed out for our own and a visit to the nearby Plough and Harrow pub where we eagerly ordered and drank a few swift halves whilst we waited for our next days walking companions – Catherine and Simon – to arrive.

The original plan for the pair to meet and walk from Seaford in the morning had been replaced by them coming down in the evening after work, checking in to the hostel and meeting us in the pub which was conveniently in a mobile blackspot so we had absolutely no idea when they would be joining us.

Playing cards in the pub
Bohnanza in the pub

With a void to fill, there was no solution other than Tal and myself set about teaching the beans virgin Mr Jackson how to play the wonderful Bohnanza. What do you mean you’ve never played?

The two stragglers joined us, food was consumed – including some very tasty lamb – and more beer imbibed before we headed for an early night in our dorm. Before we’d left it had been empty – now we found all three remaining beds taken.

It was gone midnight before they’d all hit the hay, and as I tried to drift off, I couldn’t help but think of those lovely evenings spent in rooms by myself. And then I sighed and contemplated the fact that for two of the previous nights I’d had to pay over £50 for that privilege, and pulled the duvet over my head and tried to get some sleep whilst two women in the room next door seemed to be competing in some kind of laughing competition…

Oh well. The morning would be here soon enough and a new day would bring another day of walking joy to behold.



8 February 2017 at 2:32 pm

Nice to read your blog. I’m currently researching the South Downs and looking for new walks in the area.
I know I’m spoiled for choice.

Not sure where to start, as we only have a few hours on Saturday, on a February.
will keep you posted
nice to come across your website.
Not sure if you are still posting?


2 August 2019 at 9:26 am

Thank you for this blog. I’m looking at at doing a two-day walk between Lewes and Eastbourne towards the end of August. As not a circular walk, I’m looking at the best way of parking car etc. The plan was to park in Eastbourne (end of walk) then then get a train back to Lewes for the start. Any tips gratefully received! Many thanks – Ben


19 June 2020 at 11:11 am

As a local I’d have to say a good summary, but Alfriston has never been called a Town before ! – its a village

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

19 June 2020 at 11:33 am

It’s a village? It felt quite big when I was there for a village! But I stand corrected.

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